Company plans to resume work at Arizona uranium mine amid lawsuit by environmentalists

IndustrialsAssociated Press

When Arizona's only active uranium mine shuts down this spring, the company running it plans to restart another mine south of Grand Canyon National Park.

The move by Energy Fuels Resources Inc. comes amid a lawsuit challenging the Canyon Mine on national forest land about six miles southeast of Tusayan. Work to sink the shaft at the mine was placed on standby in late 2013 amid the threat of lawsuits and tumbling prices for uranium.

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The price has since rebounded to close to $40 per pound, and the company said it's ready to resume work on the main shaft, ventilation shafts and underground development.

"It's still pretty low, but it's certainly recovering and headed in the right direction," company spokesman Curtis Moore said of uranium prices.

The Havasupai Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2012, saying it violated federal law in allowing the mine to move forward. They also argued that the Forest Service failed to adequately consult with the tribe regarding a sacred site. Energy Fuels is an intervener in the case.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments in March on requests to bring the case to a close. The court previously declined a request from the plaintiffs to keep Energy Fuels from doing any more drilling to reach the body of ore until the case was resolved.

"We look forward to making our arguments against the reopening of Canyon Mine," said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust.

The Forest Service approved a plan of operation for the Canyon Mine in 1986, and officials say it remains valid, along with the mining claims owned by Energy Fuels.

The company's mines lie in a nearly 1 million-acre area that was placed off-limits to new mining claims for 20 years, starting in January 2012. Companies with existing claims that were proven to have sufficient quantity and quality of mineral resources could be developed under a decision by the U.S. Interior Department.

Surface work at the Canyon Mine, including the hoist, evaporation ponds, environmental monitoring facilities and buildings, were completed years ago. The shaft needs to be sunk to a depth of 1,500 feet before the ore can be extracted and shipped to a mill in Blanding, Utah, where it will be stockpiled, Moore said.

Energy Fuels said it will shift dozens of employees from the Pinenut Mine, about 35 miles southwest of Fredonia, to the Canyon Mine. Uranium ore at the Pinenut Mine is expected to be depleted in April or early May, and the company will begin restoring the land, Moore said.